AUBURN HILLS, MI — Stan Van Gundy has a name for the way his team plays down the stretch of close games.
He calls it “undisciplined panic.”
It isn’t a compliment.
For the second time in five days, his young Pistons gave away a home game by making rookie mistakes in the final seconds. Unfortunately for Van Gundy, the players making the mistakes aren’t new to the league.
It started last Wednesday against Memphis. Matt Barnes had just hit a ridiculous half-court shot to give the Grizzlies a 93-92 lead with 1.1 seconds to play. Van Gundy drew up a play in the huddle – the same one he’d called in a similar situation in November against Washington.
Steve Blake was inbounding and his first option was Marcus Morris in the corner for a three-pointer. If that was covered, he was supposed to look for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming off an Andre Drummond screen.
It didn’t work against the Wizards and it didn’t work against the Grizzlies. Morris was covered in the corner, but Drummond’s screen never appeared. Running out of time, Blake had to shovel the ball to a well-guarded Morris, and his shot never had a chance.
“We broke the play off after the first option,” he said, in an almost an exact echo of his comments after the Wizards loss. “I told them that I still think this play will work, but I’ll never know unless they run the whole thing.”
The next day, after watching the film, Van Gundy wasn’t any happier.
“It was very obvious to all of them,” he said. “Whether it goes in or not, you don’t know. But it became really clear to all of them they would have had a wide-open shot had we just stayed with the play. Why we didn’t, I don’t know.”
Van Gundy took the blame, but with a gentle jab at his team’s learning skills.
“I think I haven’t put enough time in on running through the stuff. We went through that play in training camp, I think we’ve been through it once since and I don’t think that’s enough for this group,” Van Gundy said. “I have to take the responsibility of making sure we go through that stuff and work on it more so we’re better prepared.”
Monday, the Pistons made two inexplicable decisions in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and this time it was Van Gundy’s two best players.
First, at the end of regulation, Detroit had the ball and plenty of time to set up a final shot. Reggie Jackson came off a screen and found himself isolated on the wing against Blake Griffin. Instead of driving past the bigger, slower Griffin, Jackson dribbled the clock down to a second and missed a contested jumper.
“I don’t want to get on Reggie, because he had a great night, and that’s just part of his game,” Van Gundy said. “When he gets matched up with a bigger player, he doesn’t want to attack them. I don’t understand why, but that’s what he does.”
Still Jackson’s miss meant that the Pistons had a chance in overtime. Caldwell-Pope had a chance to put Detroit ahead 103-102 with 30.5 seconds to play, but could only split a pair of free throws. That meant the Clippers would get a full 24 seconds, but the Pistons would get a last shot.
Los Angeles inbounded the ball and it was swung to Griffin at the top of the key. At that point, Drummond abandoned DeAndre Jordan under the basket and charged at Griffin like he was going over the top at the Somme.
“I have no idea what he thought he was doing,” Van Gundy said. “It certainly wasn’t anything we discussed in the huddle or anything we wanted him to do.”
Drummond was trying to rip the ball away from Griffin, but barely touched the ball as he flew by at top speed.
“He just made that play a bunch of times throughout the game, I just went up to try and help out,” Drummond said.
Morris quickly had to get under the basket to guard Jordan, leaving Jamal Crawford wide open for the winning three-pointer.
“I have absolutely no idea why he decided to run up to the free throw line and make Marcus sink and leave Crawford open. I have no idea,” Van Gundy said.
“We just … it is undisciplined panic.”